Grace Lower | Feb 17, 2023
Travel is a fun topic to talk about, to read about, and in my case, to write about. But one of the less-pleasant aspects of travel is the likelihood of something going wrong. From natural disasters to violent protests, and from food poisoning to petty theft, there are risks associated with any adventure. An unexpected situation can, at best, cost you time and money, and in the worst cases, put you in harm’s way. You’ll want to be proactive in avoiding dangerous situations and keeping yourself safe if they arise. While different destinations carry different risks, the tips below will help you put safety first and find peace of mind when you’re on the road.
Simply put, situational awareness is ability to understand your surroundings and take appropriate action based on what you observe. It’s one of the most useful skills you can develop as a traveler. But these days, situational awareness is harder to achieve than you might think. Consider the last time you stood in line at the pharmacy: you might have read emails, scrolled through social media, or caught up on your favorite podcast. Going on autopilot is okay in familiar settings, but when you’re traveling, you’ll want to stay focused. Watching your surroundings can alert you to a pickpocket or keep you safe from reckless drivers. This doesn’t mean you should be paranoid, of course, but you should try to stay aware of what’s happening nearby.
Situational awareness doesn’t come easily, but with a little practice, you can learn to be more present. Before your trip, try bringing mindfulness into your daily routine. Look up from your social media feed when you’re waiting for your Starbucks order, and note what the people around you are doing. Stay off your phone as you walk your dog, and notice what’s new in your neighborhood. Even driving to the store the radio off can help you focus on the drivers around you. With enough practice, attentiveness will feel second-nature.
The older I get, the tougher it is for me to feel like a “beginner.” No matter the task, I’m always reluctant to acknowledge when I don’t know what I’m doing. Some might call it “determination,” but if we’re honest, it’s pride. And, if left unchecked, that same kind of pride can inadvertently create dangerous travel situations.
When you’re on the road, the right combination of uncertainty and pride can lead to recklessness. Whether you’re snowboarding down a hill that’s way too advanced for you, or pretending to understand instructions when you don’t speak the language, remember that your pride matters far less than your safety. Rather than “saving face,” speak up when you don’t understand something, say “no” when needed, and enjoy the slow but rewarding process of doing things the right way.
There’s value in blending in when you’re on the road, especially if you’re traveling alone. That can mean adopting a more modest form of dress in conservative cultures, speaking more quietly in reserved cultures, and minding your manners in every culture. If you’re walking through a city, avoid stopping to look up at buildings—instead, admire them inconspicuously. If you are lost or otherwise confused, avoid letting any distress show on your face, Instead, calmly find someone who might be able to assist you, like a hotel concierge, a police officer, or a family with older children. By blending in as much as you can, you’ll feel less vulnerable and avoid unwanted attention from passersby.
As a visitor, you aren’t obligated to become an expert about your destination before you arrive. You should, however, have a basic understanding of, and respect for, your host city’s language and culture. Start simple: learn phrases like “excuse me,” “help,” “please,” and “thank you.” Then move on to words and phrases specific to what you’ll be doing: “where is the trailhead?” “is there Wi-Fi here?”. Understand a little bit of your city’s history and how current events have impacted locals. With a working understanding of your destination’s language and culture, you’ll avoid misunderstandings, navigate more smoothly, and be able to ask for help if you need it.
Regardless of your budget, be mindful of how you handle your money while you’re on the road. Before you depart, make sure to call your bank to let them know about your trip. Also, check to see whether your card is accepted in the country you’ll be visiting. If you prefer using cards abroad, be cautious when using ATMs or entering your PIN in busy areas. To avoid unwanted attention when using cash, be inconspicuous when you take money out of your wallet, and stick with smaller-denomination bills. Bring extra cards and cash to store in your hotel room, in case your wallet or purse get stolen. There’s not much that’s scarier than being stranded in a foreign country without money. Taking preventative measures can go a long way.
One of the most storied benefits of travel is the way it pushes boundaries and forces people out of their comfort zones. There’s certainly value in embracing new experiences, but it’s also important to listen to your gut. If something seems uncomfortable or unusual, speak up. Say “no” to anything that feels like a scam or could put you in harm’s way. Forget what travel and lifestyle gurus say—it’s okay to forgo a new experience if saying “yes” makes you feel unsafe.
Some of the most valuable ways to keep yourself safe while traveling are to 1) register for S.T.E.P and 2) get a travel insurance plan that fits your needs. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (S.T.E.P) is a free service offered to U.S. citizens and nationals who are staying abroad for an extended period. When a traveler enrolls with S.T.E.P, their trip is registered with the Embassy or Consulate closest to their destination. The Embassy will then send the traveler periodic updates on the safety conditions of their destination, alert the traveler to any emergencies, and help the traveler’s friends and family get in touch with them in the event of an emergency.
Finding the right travel insurance—from travel medical insurance to trip protection insurance—is an essential step in protecting yourself from the unknown. Travel comes with plenty of twists and turns, for instance 12 percent of travelers have had their trips impacted by some sort of natural disaster. With the right skills and support, you’ll be able to explore with confidence. Call Seven Corners at 317.575.2652 to learn more.
Grace Lower is a recent college graduate with a love for writing and an incurable case of wanderlust. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.